The sanctions imposed on the Kinahan Transnational Crime Organisation (KTCO) this week placed it in an exclusive club along with Russian oligarchs, international terrorists and the Italian mafia.
The crime group is now estimated to have assets in excess of €1 billion and relies on a network spanning three continents to run its drug distribution operation.
It started as a local crime grouping in Dublin’s south-inner city decades ago but soon grew and by the late 1990s was considered the most powerful gang in Ireland.
Founder Christy Kinahan Snr served prison sentences in Ireland and the Netherlands for drug dealing, and later Belgium for money-laundering offences.
He used his time in custody to build contacts across Europe. He organised drug shipments worth millions of euro – as well as the transportation of firearms – into Ireland.
The elder Kinahan later relocates to Spain from where he ran his successful “business” and evaded gardaí.
Another key area for the gang was the UK midlands where Thomas “Bomber” Kavanagh established himself as one of the cartel’s primary operators.
Kinahan’s two sons, Daniel and Christy Jnr, also began taking an active participation in the criminal network.
By 2007, Daniel Kinahan in particular had taken a more hands-on involvement in the day-to-day running of operations. He became a key target of Operation Shovel when gardaí recovered 1.5 tonnes of cannabis in Kildare.
The Garda investigation turned into a major international operation, with police from the UK, Spain and the Netherlands later being joined by agencies in the Middle East and South America. This culminated in a series of raids, followed by arrests, here as well as in Britain and Spain.
Christy Kinahan and his sons were among those detained by the Spanish police. Others arrested included “Fat” Freddie Thompson and Gary Hutch, whose murder by the Kinahan gang sparked a deadly feud that has claimed 18 lives.
A file uncovered by gardaí in 2011 showed the Kinahan network was selling shipments of drugs worth €1m every two months.
How the gang laundered their money was also uncovered, with documents revealing that €2.5m was washed through unsuspecting bookies.
There was also evidence of 60 luxury properties owned by the cartel in Spain, worth around €150m, along with tourist developments worth €500m in Brazil. Other properties and businesses in Belgium, Cyprus and South Africa were also found.
However, despite around 30 people being arrested as part of Operation Shovel, the only charges brought as part of the investigation related to passport fraud.
By 2015, issues began to develop within the cartel and that September Gary Hutch, a nephew of Gerry “The Monk” Hutch, was shot dead in Spain.
It would later emerge that he had attempted to launder money from a “tiger kidnapping” with the cartel, but those relationships soured.
In a retaliatory attack in February 2016, a five-man hit team stormed the Regency Hotel in Dublin during a boxing match weigh-in.
During the gun attack, David Byrne, an associate of the cartel, was shot dead. Gardaí believe Daniel Kinahan was the intended target.
Also injured was Sean McGovern, who is now being sought by gardaí to be charged with murder and organised crime offences.
The gun attack was described as a “defining time” of how gardaí would tackle the Kinahan crime gang.
Assistant Commissioner John O’Driscoll said the extent of how the cartel had developed from a group of criminals in Dublin, to a transnational gang, became evident.
“This power was exercised through a campaign of murder in Ireland and elsewhere, directed by the hierarchy of the group, who are believed to have taken up residence at a location far removed from, not alone Ireland, but also Europe,” he said.
He estimates that from operating at a global level it has accumulated wealth in excess of €1bn.
The Kinahan gang has also been blamed for 16 of the 18 murders carried out as part of the feud, including those of two innocent bystanders.
In the last six years, detectives from the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau (GNDOCB) seized €20m worth of drugs, €7.5m in cash, and 48 firearms.
They have also intervened in 46 threat-to-life situations and convicted 79 people of crimes directly linked to the cartel.
However, while gardaí were putting away low and mid-level operators, the top-level operators have been evading justice.
Police in the UK faced the same problem. The UK’s National Crime Agency’s (NCA) deputy director Matt Horne said eight threats to life or murders linked to the gang were prevented on UK streets.
But, despite several successes, the leadership continued to evade capture and went to extreme lengths to avoid arrest, including the use of corruption and counter-surveillance.
In more recent years the murders have ceased, with Daniel Kinahan attempting to portray himself as a legitimate businessman.
He has become an adviser to some of the top stars in boxing, brokered multi-million-dollar fights, and even had a brief role with a sports agency linked to the Bahrain royal family. The efforts to “sportswash” his reputation appeared to be working, as he reinvented himself from the far-away Middle Eastern state of the UAE.
Gardaí also believe he has separated himself from other crime gang members, bar his closest associates, in an attempt to appear legitimate.
Despite living in the UAE – which has no extradition treaty with Ireland – gardaí are confident Kinahan and his key associates will be caught.
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said they could “run but can’t hide” and that the Kinahan hierarchy would face justice.
He said they started out as drug dealers in the south-inner city but have grown to become an international organisation that had generated up to €1bn from criminality.
Mr Harris said one of the first briefings he received when taking up the top garda role was on the Kinahan gang.
The garda chief added that, from now on, the gang would be running out of money, friends, and influence.
Mr Horne of the NCA also said the financial sanctions imposed by the US would hamper the Kinahan gang, including freezing the funds in its bank accounts.
Any attempts to conduct business in the US will also be unsuccessful.
US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) deputy commissioner Troy Miller warned members of the transnational crime gang that they were not welcome in the US, and that it would deny access to those who attempt to travel into America.
The gang’s significant rise was summed up by Gregory Gatjanis, associate director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control at the Department of Treasury.
He said the cartel had started on the streets of south-inner city Dublin – close to where the joint garda press conference was held at Dublin City Hall – but that now its tentacles had spread around the world.
Following the Biden administration’s imposition of sanctions, the Kinahan cartel has joined an “exclusive” club of international crime gangs – the Italian Camorra, the Japanese Yakuza, Mexico’s Los Zetas and the Russian mafia Thieves in Law.
Russian oligarchs have also found themselves hit with sanctions as part of the international response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Kinahan cartel continues to traffic multi-million-euro drug shipments across Europe, but it is hoped that the joint international co-operation – the brainchild of Assistant Garda Commissioner John O’Driscoll – will finally dismantle it.